Easter Sunday, March 31, 2024

Postlude – Toccata (from Symphony No. 5, Opus 42 No. 1) – Charles-Marie Widor (1844-1937)

One of the most famous pieces in the entire organ literature, the “Widor Toccata,” is the fifth and final movement of the composer’s fifth organ symphony (he composed a total of eleven organ symphonies, the last one for organ and orchestra). Although its musical materials are in fact quite uncomplicated and straightforward, the Toccata’s magic arises from the exciting continuous sixteenth-note figuration in the hands, as well as the thunderous pedal notes which are heard underneath them. (The piece has no actual association with Easter, although it is regarded by many as being the quintessential Easter Sunday postlude.) Widor was organist of the great Church of St. Sulpice in Paris, for an astonishing total of 64 years, where he presided over one of the great organs in the world, an enormous 1862 instrument by the greatest French Romantic (nineteenth century) organ builder, Aristide Cavaillé-Coll. I had the fabulous opportunity to take lessons on this instrument in the spring of 2011, during a sabbatical in which I spent a total of seven weeks in Paris; my teacher was the Associate Organist of St. Sulpice, Sophie-Veronique Cauchéfer-Choplin. In addition to playing the instrument in our lessons, Sophie-Veronique also invited me to play the prelude at the Sunday afternoon Mass one weekend, which was a particular honor and thrill. (I played the Pièce Heroique by César Franck, another great French Romantic organist and composer.)

– Charles Tompkins

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